On Samuel Johnson
On Harold Bloom’s recommendation I am reading Samuel Johnson. He seems to me an excessive writer. Perhaps he was paid by the word.
While reading Samuel Johnson I was forced to ‘translate’ into plain words at the end of most sentences so that I understood what he was going on about. As a result here is my adaption of Samuel Johnson’s ‘On Spring’ into plain modern Australian.
Every man has hopes for the future. When the future comes, generally without the hoped-for blessing, we press forward to new prospects. Lucky is the man who can hope for inevitable things, and not neglect his work in the present.
I’m friends with a person like this, who set his attitude so that hope blooms three times a year. Here is the source of that man’s cheap and lasting source of happiness:
It was gained by referring constantly to all his problems being solved next spring. Often spring brought no solutions, but he was sure the next spring would, and he was certain the present spring would satisfy him until the middle of summer, for he spoke of spring as coming til it was past.
Who doesn’t take pleasure in springtime? What great poets do not write about spring and its human meanings? The return of nature bring animal pleasure and promises human joy.
Spring clears the mind of worry and lust to think clearly. Some men ignore nature’s beauty, and fritter time away on socialising. But something’s wrong with a man who can’t bear his own company: maybe he avoids an empty mind, or perhaps he fears negative feelings; depressed people, unable to contemplate nature, can justifiably focus on social pleasures alone.
Please consider how many people find their own company a burden because they cannot reflect. I say that they cannot reflect because although the book of nature is open they have not learnt to read the letters.
Few people know how to take a walk with any new or different pleasure than socialising would give.
Every man ought to derive reflections from the objects around him, because there’s no purpose in changing location if his attention stays fixed on the same ideas and feelings. The truly open mind should be open enough to accommodate ideas from nature.
A man who loves novelty will find in nature an inexhaustible supply of material, without any jealousy or envy (emotions which people who use art for contemplation are apt to). Nature yields to study and experiment new knowledge and more reasons to be grateful to God.
I’m not saying we all need to become naturalists, but it’s worth knowing that in nature many innocent and profound amusements can be found.
Here I am forced, by the elegance and power of the words of Johnson, to return to the actual text, which is sublime and wise. This last paragraph is the larger wisdom of all ages, which out of respect I must quote in full:
“He that enlarges his curiosity after the works of nature, demonstrably multiplies the inlets to happiness; and, therefore, the younger part of my readers, to whom I dedicate this vernal speculation, must excuse me for calling upon them, to make use at once of the spring of the year, and the spring of life; to acquire, while their minds may be yet impressed with new images, a love of innocent pleasures, and an ardor for useful knowledge; and to remember, that a blighted spring makes a barren year, and that the vernal flowers, however beautiful and gay, are only intended by nature as preparatives for autumnal fruits.”